Health chief's funding fears

THE Chief Executive of a health trust responsible for around 97,000 people has told how it will be difficult to cope with the multi-million pound budget they have been given for the coming year, as the NHS remains under-funded with staff pushed to intolerable levels.

THE Chief Executive of a health trust responsible for around 97,000 people has told how it will be difficult to cope with the multi-million pound budget they have been given for the coming year, as the NHS remains under-funded with staff pushed to intolerable levels.

Harper Brown, Chief Executive of the Central Suffolk Primary Care Trust, believes there are tough decisions ahead as the authority decides where to spend its £71.8 million 2003/4 budget, which equates to £743 per person.

The amount represents a 7.7% rise - £5.1m - on last year's budget, but Mr Brown said they are still coping with previous funding levels and health workers have had to be driven hard over the last few years, making life more intolerable.

Mr Brown spoke out during an open day for the trust at Needham Market's community centre, which included details about the authority's plans for the next three years, presentations and exhibitions from 31 organisations including Age Concern, cancer, dental and complimentary medicine organisations for staff and the public yesterday.

The primary care trust is responsible for improving the health and well-being of about 97,000 patients registered with 12 GP practices, covering the middle of Suffolk from the Norfolk to the Essex border.

Mr Brown, who said they are finding large numbers of extra people choosing to move to Hadleigh and Wattisham, said: "Coping with the funds will be difficult, the biggest pressure is from the costs of prescribing drugs.

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"The public is getting a very good service from the NHS, but we are under funded even with the extra money.

"We are under a statutory obligation to break even and there are tough decisions to be made as to where we spend the money, which we will be deciding during the next couple of months.

"The Government has given us nearly 8% more, which is better than previous years, but we are playing catch up. It will be mainly about not spending on new things. We would like to invest in more staff to look after people at home.

"Ultimately we end up putting more pressure on existing staff, using the staff we have got better. You just push them harder and harder, which has made life more intolerable over the last few years.

"Services are fully stretched. Given the new money you have to be positive, but there are a lot of questions about where you invest it.''

The open day for the trust revealed that the three year plan for the authority is to target key priorities, including cancer, coronary heart disease, drug misuse, mental health, children and older people.

Mary Goode, head of corporate affairs at the trust, said they have to look at better ways of working and the best use out of the few resources there are.